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Students' life-changing experiences in the Amazon rainforest

Tuesday 27 February 2018

STUDENTS have described the University’s field course to the Amazon rainforest as a ‘life-changing experience’.

Not only did they spot endangered animals on the brink of extinction and explore a variety of tropical ecosystems, but they also got to swim with river dolphins and play football with an indigenous community.

The two-week January trip sees students on Zoology and Wildlife Conservation degrees flown to a region of Brazil so remote they need a government permit to be allowed there.

Natasha Woest, 33, is one of the lucky 30 students  who found the two weeks’ experience “extraordinary”. In fact she was so impressed, that on her return to Salford, she has been giving talks to raise awareness about the importance of the rainforest.

Ferocious bite 

“In the first week it was all about getting introduced to the environment. Obviously coming from the UK made it quite difficult for us to get used to the tropical weather, with the humidity, the temperature and the rainfall. The temperature was only 25 degrees, but the 100% humidity made it extra hot, she explains.

The group spent their first week in Reserva Ducke, 10,000 hectares of protected area on the outskirts of the Brazilian city of Manaus, a fantastic base to learn about Amazonian species.

“There were no piranhas, but we did find a wolf fish which can give a ferocious bite,” said Natasha who conducted surveys of the vegetation structure, invertebrates, birds and fish.

“The second week we were on the Amazon River and the most exciting thing was swimming with the pink dolphins.

“People used to cut down the trees in the area and hunt the dolphins for meat. Now, to encourage eco tourism, they let the dolphins swim free in the river, but they feed them at a particular point in the day and they train them to come to a specific area.”

'Get back out there' 

Alex Ross, BSc(Hons) Wildlife Conservation and Zoo Biology, said: “What I’ve learned from this trip has made me more ambitious to try to get back out there,  just get out there and try to work in the field.”

They also went to see a local tribe, which was like being in a film, says Natasha. “The chief of the tribe took us in this big arena and told us different stories and then did a dance for each and every one of them; and then they asked the students to join them.

“They speak over 20 languages within the tribe and they don’t dress in western clothing, but use big leaves and stuff like that instead. They also wear bone-sculpted accessories and sell some of the jewellery pieces, ornaments and dream catchers they make.”

Natasha, who graduates in July, is heading back to the rainforest this summer, this time to Borneo and Mozambique in a project with the Natural History Museum.

A version of this story was published by I Love, written by University of Salford journalism graduate Ana Ilescu.

- Celebrity naturalist Ian Redmond, known for his films of mountain gorillas and elephants, visited the University this week to meet students. See his video